Rio Woes: Texas’ lawsuit against NM over the waters of the Rio Grande heads to the U.S. Supreme Court

From Colorado to Mexico, communities siphon and spread water from the Rio Grande. For about a century, every drop of that water has been divvied up among cities and farmers. It’s not unusual to stand alongside an irrigation ditch in New Mexico and hear someone complain that too much water is flowing to Texas. But, in fact, Texas stands on solid ground in its lawsuit against New Mexico over the Rio Grande, oral arguments for which are scheduled for January in the U.S. Supreme Court. If New Mexico loses, southern farmers will take a hit—and so will the state budget.

A ‘grand adventure in learning’ along the Rio Grande for students

On a chilly, late-November morning, commuters rumble across the bridge over the Rio Grande on Avenida César Chávez in Albuquerque. Near the river below, two students from the South Valley Academy demonstrate how to measure groundwater levels. Alberto Martinez lowers the aptly-named beeper tape into a vertical pipe in the ground and cranks the reel. When the weighted end of the cable hits water, it beeps. Lynette Diaz records the depth at which it hits groundwater—211 centimeters if you’re curious—and the two head to the next station.

BLM delays methane rule, while EPA plans ‘red team-blue team’ debates over climate change

On Thursday, the Trump administration continued to make its priorities clear when it comes to industry, the environment and climate change. Just days after President Donald Trump and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary announced changes to national monuments, Zinke’s agency delayed plans to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. On Thursday, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management published a rule to delay implementation of the Obama-era requirement until January 2019. Methane, a greenhouse gas, contributes to the warming of the planet. It is also a marketable product—the same natural gas many people use to cook with and heat their homes.

News flash: 2017 has been hot + news around NM

Early Wednesday morning, a pipeline owned by Enterprise Products, a natural gas company, exploded south of Carlsbad, near Loving. Homes were evacuated and details are still scarce. The Carlsbad Current Argus has continuing coverage. Elizabeth Miller’s story about work being done in Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve in this week’s Santa Fe Reporter offers a reminder that while locals sometimes grumble when it’s done near their backyards, the chainsaw-and-herbicide work of restoration is important. Thanks to a state grant, the Santa Fe-Pojoaque Soil and Water Conservation District removed 6.5 acres of invasive Russian olive trees from around the preserve.

Zinke decides against shrinking NM monuments

The Trump administration announced big changes to some national monuments, but U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said the boundaries of two monuments under review in New Mexico will be left intact. A day after President Donald Trump visited Utah and announced he would drastically reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, Zinke released his recommendations for the other monuments under review. At the urging of Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, Trump signed an executive order earlier this year directing Zinke to review all national monuments designated since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres. That included two in New Mexico, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces. During a press call on Tuesday, Zinke said he based his decision not to alter boundaries of the two New Mexico monuments on conversations with the governor, the state’s congressional delegation, ranchers, conservationists, and city officials.

EPA kicks financial assurances for mines to the curb

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it will not issue final regulations requiring mining companies to prove before beginning work that they have the financial means to clean up pollution from their mines. The agency has decided the regulations are not “appropriate.”

According to a statement from the agency, Administrator Scott Pruitt said the requirements were unnecessary. “After careful analysis of public comments, the statutory authority, and the record for this rulemaking, EPA is confident that modern industry practices, along with existing state and federal requirements address risks from operating hardrock mining facilities,” Pruitt said.  “Additional financial assurance requirements are unnecessary and would impose an undue burden on this important sector of the American economy and rural America, where most of these mining jobs are based.”

Last year, the Obama administration issued a draft rule, which garnered more than 11,000 public comments. Hardrock mines include metals like copper, iron and lead.

Most recent audit reveals state still has problems distributing disaster money

Another audit turned in months after it was due reveals the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management still has problems with finances and management—some of which date back years—but is showing some signs of improvement. The 2016 audit was publicly released in late October when State Auditor Tim Keller sent a letter back to the department’s secretary, M. Jay Mitchell. The independent audit reveals 14 significant problems, some of which were also found in previous years’ audits. NM Political Report requested an interview with Mitchell or the department’s Chief Financial Officer, Sarah Peterson. The public information officer could not make either available for an interview, but Mitchell did respond via email.

Gold King Mine meeting scheduled for Monday

The New Mexico Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee will meet Monday evening in Farmington. According to the New Mexico Environment Department, the committee includes 11 citizen volunteers from northern New Mexico, including the Navajo Nation, and works with New Mexico’s Long-Term Impact Review Team to monitor and understand the long-term impacts of the 2015 Gold King Mine accident. While conducting exploratory cleanup work of an abandoned mine in southwestern Colorado, federal contractors hired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency caused 3 million gallons of wastewater to spill from the Gold King Mine into the Animas River. That river, which flows into the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico, was contaminated with lead, arsenic and cadmium. The mine, like about 400 others in the area, was owned by a private company before being abandoned.

Toulouse Oliver calls for sexual harassment training for NM lobbyists

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced a plan today for lobbyists to take sexual harassment training before each session of the New Mexico Legislature. “Sexual harassment in any form is never acceptable,” Toulouse Oliver said in emailed statement to reporters. “This is just a first step, but it is my hope that by giving lobbyists the opportunity to enroll in sexual harassment training programs, we will be able to prevent some instances of misconduct from happening in the first place.”
The current lobbyist registration forms will be amended to include a checkbox for lobbyists to confirm they have taken the training. Those forms will be searchable and online. The training would be voluntary, but Toulouse Oliver hopes it could someday be mandatory.

Pre-turkey environment news from around the state

Before you break into the turkey and mashed potatoes tomorrow, I just wanted to mention a few important environment stories from the past week. Last week, the Albuquerque Journal reported that the U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Texas v. New Mexico for January 8, 2018. Texas sued New Mexico four years ago, alleging that New Mexico is using more than our fair share of water from the Rio Grande. Here’s a short post from Southwest FarmPress, too. To read some of our earlier coverage of the lawsuit, visit here.